It seems to me that the casual visitor to our site would benefit from having some statement of what our community is about and how they should take the answers they find here. I mean more of a statement of site philosophy and not simply what is or is not deemed on topic. This could be couched in the form of a FAQ, but may in fact be better conveyed in prose. What I see coming up again and again is the issue of descriptive vs prescriptive approaches to grammar, and I think it is critical for newbies to grasp this early on as they peruse our site. A related issue is that of authoritative sources. If Wikipedia and the OED disagree with Merriam-Webster and Fowler's, who's right?

Would this be a useful adjunct?

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I agree the descriptive vs prescriptive debate is becoming a bit of a hoary old chestnut. I trust the majority of "authoritative" contributors here tend towards the former, but this doesn't obviate the need for authoritative reference sources. Having said that I think it would be a mistake to actually specify a list of trusted sources, or their relative ranking order. The members here collectively determine what constitutes "correctness", which is as it should be. –  FumbleFingers Mar 31 '11 at 2:41

3 Answers 3

As a complete noob, with only Google as my "source of knowledge", I would welcome in this Manifesto:

  • a list of acceptable references (even if they may disagree with each other),
  • and more importantly a list of non-acceptable sources.
    (since I have the knack of using them when I shouldn't -- see the comments)
    For instance:
    • Grammar Girl is not always reliable.
    • fact-archive.com is just a copy of Wikipedia.
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Who would decide what references are acceptable? I personally would think that Wikipedia is unreliable and full of "portmanteau" and "eggcorn" agenda-pushing nonsense - much worse than Strunk and White's book. –  delete Aug 14 '10 at 4:08
    
Even Urban Dictionary occasionally offers useful information in the fast-changing area of neologistic slang (IMHO it's mostly drivel, though). Nothing should be absolutely ruled out, nor should anything be given precedence over all other sources. –  FumbleFingers Mar 31 '11 at 2:47

I think the most important thing when evaluating a source on usage guidance is to look at what methodology they apply when generating usage advice. Do they base their guidance on actual usage or are they just making stuff up based on "what they learned in school"?

Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, for example, is roundly criticized by academic linguists for being misinformed, hypocritical, and wrong, so I, for example, would give little credence to any answer that relies on that silly little book.

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"Hypocritical"? Anyway, despite its defects, surely some of the book must be correct. It's likely to be more reliable than something like Wikipedia, with all its "eggcorn" and "portmanteau" agenda-pushing. –  delete Aug 14 '10 at 4:07
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There is enough stuff in "Elements of Style" that is flat-out wrong or totally misleading that following it as an authority is likely to lead to the wrong conclusion as often as the right conclusion. Many false grammatical superstitions and urban legends about English have come from that book. –  Kosmonaut Aug 16 '10 at 14:27
    
Strunk & White is not without its issues. However, I would hazard a guess that 90%+ of the writing I see on a day-to-day basis, at work and online, would benefit enormously from following its recommendations. –  Christopher Cashell Apr 1 at 15:32

A site manifesto would be a good idea if it gives information about the site's philosophy. Part of that philosophy might be that sources are given so that people can comment if they wish.

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